A 4% Increase in Homelessness Means We Must Act Now

The results for Count Us In, the yearly one-night count for people experiencing homelessness in King County are in, and the numbers are what we suspected: Homelessness is up in our communities.

12,112 people are experiencing homelessness in King County. That’s a 4 percent increase over last year. 12,112 people sleeping in cars, tents, abandoned buildings. Overcrowded shelters and hotel rooms. On the street.

Something must change if the community is going to solve the homeless crisis. And not solving it is a matter of life and death.

We recently laid out four actions to move the needle on homelessness and we stand by them more than ever:

Acknowledge that this community doesn’t have enough housing for people with low or no income. An increase of people living in their cars demonstrates we don’t have enough affordable housing. When rents go up, homelessness does too. Rents in our region soared 48 percent over the past five years. Experts estimate we need 90,000 to 100,000 additional units of affordable housing. We’re currently far from that number. We need creative housing solutions and additional funding sources. It also means as a community, we need to recognize that to bring more people inside, we must start saying,“Yes in my backyard.”

Create a combined city-county department focused solely on homelessness. Give it the authority to make funding and strategy decisions. That will speed up a system weighed down by bureaucracy and prevent conflicting agendas from undermining funding priorities.

Adopt a comprehensive approach to homelessness prevention that scales effective, data-driven diversion programs. There are programs with proven track records that should be scaled countywide. Two examples: King County’s Best Starts for Kids Initiative, which, in its first year, prevented 3,000 youth and families from becoming homeless, and United Way’s Streets to Home program, which uses flexible dollars to do things like pay a person’s housing deposit and first month’s rent (big barriers to attaining safe shelter). Streets To Home moved more than 1,000 people into housing from July 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, at an average cost of $1,000 per person. Homelessness prevention must include outreach to people on the verge of eviction and those leaving hospitals, foster care and incarceration.

Recognize that most people who become homeless will not receive a long-term housing voucher. In the past five years, Seattle lost one-third of its federal funding for affordable housing. That’s why 19,000 Seattle households sat on a waitlist in 2017. We need to help people increase their income—and that’s where the business community could step in and consider a new stream of workers for positions employers are looking to fill. A quarter of Count Us In respondents cited job loss as the primary cause of their homelessness. We have the jobs and opportunity to fix this.

469 fathers, mothers, friends, students and young children have been pushed out of their homes due to a rising cost of living and a system that moves too slowly to help. The 500 shelter beds recently announced by Mayor Durkan can help some, but barely cover the increase in the crisis over the past year. We must implement bold solutions like these to save lives, and do it now.

If you have questions about United Way’s point of view on homelessness, visit our FAQ.

 

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